John Carney’s Latest Album Film “Sing Street” Is A Dream Film

By Scott Kurland

Film: Sing Street
Starring: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor, Mark McKeena, Aiden Gillen, and Maria Doyle Kennedy
Rated: PG-13
Director: John Carney

Let me pose a rhetorical question to you, my dear reader. Why does any young guy start a band? I think we can all answer that without giving it a second thought. It’s to pick up girls, or meet girls, or get the girl.  The short answer is girls, or guys (no judgements here if that's your thing). This week’s film is “Sing Street” from one of the best directors around: John Carney. Carney has established a genre with his film series; titled “An Album Film”. Carney's films are musical but they are not musicals per se. Instead of having his characters randomly breaking out into song, the actors in these films are musicians who play their music organically. It was a bold move when he created it with “Once". Three movies later and it’s still effective. Let’s see if “Sing Street” can live up to its predecessors shall we?

“Sing Street” takes place in 1985 and it follows Conor ‘Cosmo’ Lalor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) as he watches his family be torn apart by his parent’s imminent separation and financial struggles. Conor is plucked out of his posh private school and thrown into the free public Christian school “Synge Street”. Conor encounters two bullies on his first day. The first is the headmaster, Brother Baxter (Don Wycherley), who discourages Conor's desire to be different. The second is Barry, (Ian Kenny) a fiery ginger with a sling shot and a hatred for Conor. None of that matters when Conor meets Raphina (Lucy Boynton), who inspires him to start a band. Conor starts “Sing Street,” comprised of all the other outcasts in school and the music video's they create bring him closer with Raphina. Will Conor get the girl or will he, like so many musicians before him, suffer at the hands of love?

“Sing Street” might be Carney’s most autobiographical film yet. Clearly, Conor/Cosmo and his bandmate Eamons, played by Mark McKenna, are based on Carney himself and his old writing partner's including Glen Hansard from “Once”. Watching “Sing Street," I was reminded of Alan Parker’s “The Commitments” as both show how a band is formed. One minute these characters are writing lyrics and creating chords, then Carney cuts to the song being rehearsed and, finally, the song being completed. Carney’s love for storytelling, music, and the process of composing a song comes to life on the big screen. We like these characters, we root for these characters, but, most importantly, we love their music. 

 Carney wrote and directed “Sing Street”, but he and Gary Clark also wrote the songs as well. Every song is an homage to a popular band of the 1980's. There’s ‘Riddle of the Model’ that plays like a Durran, Durran number. “Drive It Like You Stole It” reminded me of Hall & Oates with some Huey Lewis thrown in. Regardless of who influenced the songs, they’re all spectacular and incredibly catchy. The songs help the audience experience the emotions that each character is feeling. Carney's incorporation of music has helped establish this new form of genre that is “An Album Film”.

Besides Carney’s writing and direction, “Sing Street” soars with its very young cast. Ferdia Walsh-Peelo is not only a very talented actor, but he’s also a very gifted music. I feel like the criteria to be the lead in a John Carney film is that you have to play at least one musical instrument. Walsh-Peelo as Conor/Cosmo is exactly what a teenager in movie should be. Conor struggles with his identity and, throughout the film, he turns to musicians who have a distinct sense of style for guidance. You never really see a character in a film struggle that way. Walsh-Peelo really helps bring this aspect of Conor to life. Walsh-Peelo has a scene where he stands up to a bully in a way that has never been done before on screen. Not once have I seen that, and I’ve seen every John Hughes film including “Curley Sue.” Walsh-Peelo is so good in this film that he raises the bar for future teen male leads in a film.

Walsh-Peelo is not the only actor in this film who is brilliant. Lucy Boynton as Raphina is heartbreaking. It’s not what she says in the film that sold me on her performance. It was what she didn’t say. There’s two musical numbers where she has no dialog and yet her performance breaks your heart. This is just an incredibly well acted film. I loved all the performances including Mark McKeena's Eamon; the John Lennon to Conor’s Paul McCartney. However, the best performance for me was Jack Reynor as Conor’s brother Brendan. In my opinion, Reynor is best in little indie films like this one. It’s great when he has success in summer blockbusters like “Transformers,” but Reynor has yet to give a better performance than this well educated college drop out. The way Brendan spouts out musical knowledge borders on obsession and its that of a musical prophet. For me, Reynor is this films MVP.

“Sing Street” is by far my favorite hidden gem to come out of 2016. Do yourself a favor and see this film. It’ll remind you of why we go to the movies. It’s full of hope, realism, and some of the best original music written specifically for a film. I dare you to leave this film and not hunt down this soundtrack or have any of these song's stuck in your head. “Sing Street” is a must see, and be sure to see it on the big screen with a great sound system. You’ll be doing yourself a big service.